Notes: Success fueled by fundamentals

Notes: Success fueled by fundamentals

DENVER -- Their Saturday-night shutout of the Astros put the Rockies at .500 at home for the first time since the season's second game. But despite a desire to reclaim their dominance at home and re-energize their ballpark, it has been a return to the game's fundamentals that has fueled the Rockies' strong start rather than a return of the Blake Street bombs.

"A long time ago, they drew this game up to play a certain way, and for whatever reason, we've gotten away from it over the years," said manager Clint Hurdle after the Rockies started the weekend series with their eighth comeback victory of the season. "For us and the personnel we have, the way we're playing now makes sense for us. We play small ball, but we have the opportunity to jump up and get you now and then."

The Rockies have shown a well-rounded offense, more likely to employ the stolen base and sacrifice bunt than to sit and wait for the three-run homer.

"We're playing very efficiently," said center fielder Corey Sullivan. "We're winning games, that's the key. Sometimes at Coors Field you're going to have the 12-10 games, 12-8 games. Right now we're not having them. So we need to do what we can to win the ballgame. We're doing that."

Though improved pitching may have more to do with the low-scoring games at home than the humidor's theoretical effect on the balls (the Rockies have been using the climate-controlled storage facility to rehumidify game balls since 2002), the cold spring weather still has the ability to trump the park's dimensions.

"This place plays big when it's cold out," said Todd Helton. "That's why you have to be able to play fundamental baseball."

After a decade characterized by the "chicks dig the long ball" slogan, fundamental play has become hip again, as evidenced by Chicago's World Series championship run and the eye-opening play of such teams as Japan, which won the inaugural World Baseball Classic with an old-school approach.

"I've always been of the fabric that pitching and defense win championships," said Hurdle. "Power and velocity aren't the only two combinations that can provide a winning environment."

The team's one-run wins (8-4 overall, 5-1 at home) remind newcomer Jamey Carroll of Washington's strong start in the first half of last season, but the emphasis on fundamentals was evident to him on his first day in camp. He arrived early only to find a core of Rockies already on hand, voluntarily putting themselves through hard workouts.

"Right then I knew something was going in the right direction here, because guys were out there on their own, getting after it," said Carroll. "No matter what the situation is, guys are going to be working and trying to get better and trying to be successful, and I noticed that right off the bat."

The hard work is paying dividends, and the rest of the league is noticing the Rockies, looking up at them in their perch atop the National League West standings. The roll continues a strong finish to the 2005 season, when the team went 30-28 from Aug. 1 through the end of the season, with the same regular position players and the nucleus of this year's rotation in place.

"We proved we belong [at the end of last year], and I think now we're just showing that we're here to stay," said Sullivan. "We're actually putting up now."

Coming off the bench: With Carroll making his sixth consecutive start on Sunday and his 11th in the last 15 games, it's hard to keep calling him a bench player. And with a .343 (12-for-35) average during that span, it's understandably hard to justify sitting him.

Part of his increased playing time came with Helton on the disabled list, and he also earned starts at shortstop while Clint Barmes was away at a family funeral. Most recently, he has taken Luis Gonzalez's spot at second base.

Gonzalez is in a 1-for-13 funk over the four games since his 3-for-4 outing in Florida last Sunday. The coaches have gone over videos of Gonzalez's at-bats with him, pointing out his inconsistency in repeating his setup and swing. Hurdle is giving him time to make adjustments in his swing before putting him back in the lineup.

"It could happen in St. Louis," said Hurdle. "Any time we've taken a guy out of the lineup, we do a lot of extensive work with him. We try to find a way to give them a few more weapons when they get back in the lineup."

Hurdle also hinted that Carroll might play a game at shortstop in St. Louis, getting Gonzalez back at second and letting Barmes continue to work on an adjustment to correct his hand positioning in his swing. Barmes, 2-for-17 in his last seven games, has been dropping his hands before his swing, forcing him to come at the ball with a looping uphill motion rather than a straight line on a downhill plane.

Catching on: As the Rockies head to St. Louis, look for Eli Marrero to get his first start behind the dish in three years. He caught the ninth inning of the Rockies' April 5 game against the D-Backs, and before that had not made an appearance as a catcher since May 10, 2003, when he was with the Cardinals.

With Opening Day starter Danny Ardoin struggling offensively, with a .159 average, and his caught-stealing percentage at 17.6 (3-of-17) -- down from 43.9 (18-of-41) in 2005 -- Hurdle is willing to further test the depth of his club by using his third catcher.

"It would seem kind of silly to me not to try it, as well as he's been swinging the bat," said Hurdle.

Marrero is hitting .308 with four homers and nine RBIs in 16 games this season, including nine starts -- seven at first base, one in left field and one in right. He saw the bulk of playing time at first base while Helton was on the DL, and Hurdle is eager to find a way to keep his bat in the lineup.

Catching flight: Yorvit Torrealba, initially projected as the starting catcher this season until going on the DL with a right shoulder sprain, will fly to Tucson after Sunday's game to begin a rehab assignment, with several days at extended Spring Training. He will work with Rookie League manager P.J. Carey on what Hurdle calls a "plethora of drills" and may participate in some games to build his confidence before beginning a stretch with Triple-A Colorado Springs. He has not seen game action since Spring Training.

"He's got enough strength to go ahead and throw, so we're just going to get him involved, get him out of this environment and into another one," said Hurdle.

In addition, relief pitcher Mike DeJean, on the DL with tendinitis in his right shoulder, will not travel with the team on the upcoming road trip. He will be shut down for five or six days before returning to side work as he tries to regain strength in the shoulder.

On deck: Jeff Francis (1-2, 3.60 ERA) will try to extend his three-game roll with a 6:10 p.m. MT start in St. Louis on Monday. Francis has a 0.95 ERA over his last three starts, capped by seven scoreless innings in Wednesday's shutout of the Reds.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.